A tale of two Samuels, By Emmanuel Onwubiko

Posted by News Express | 28 March 2017 | 3,026 times

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•Emmanuel Onwubiko.

In faraway Geneva, Switzerland, in Western Europe, over ten dozen top chief executive officers of blue-chip companies operating on the Black African continent are about now rounding up their meeting, with the objective of uncovering the magic wand for the rapid industrialisation of Africa.

These egg-heads, plus a mixture of politicians from Africa, had originally set out to find out the new most workable economic models to turn around the continent currently ravaged by hunger, mass poverty and conflicts. Ironically, somewhere in-between their dialogue sessions, a prosperous Africa-born but Europe-based billionaire, Mr. MO Ibrahim, convinced them to change the focus of deliberations to a much more pressing issue - lack of good governance.  

One striking factor out of their constructive dialogue was the unanimous conclusion that the most critical needs of the African continents are not economic models or absence of such, but that what is lacking grossly in Africa is good governance.

Although I am uncomfortable that these African business leaders did not behave wisely by holding this sort of key meeting outside of the shores of Africa - but in my philosophical belief that it is better to analyse the message and avoid paying so much attention to the messenger - it is strategic to affirm that the assertion of these African business leaders is factually correct.

The plenary session, comprising Mo Ibrahim of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Pierre Guislain (Africa Development Bank) and Abebe Aemro Selassie of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), blamed African governments for the continent’s dwindling economic fortunes. This important call by respected business and socio-economic leaders for effective decentralised political systems at the forum - where more than 1,000 chief executives of leading organisations are seeking sustainable solutions to Africa’s economic woes - would sure put pressure on weak governments and encourage prudent management of resources.

The above were taken from reports of The Guardian Newspaper (Nigeria) whose Group News Editor, Marcel Mbamalu, is reporting live from the meeting venue.

 Mbamalu has captured the nitty-gritty of that high profile meeting in such a manner that a reader in Nigeria would nostalgically ask questions about why Nigeria's political space is no longer dominated by leaders with sterling qualities, such as the two most famous Samuels - Chief Samuel Mbakwe and Gen Samuel Ogbemudia.

Well, let's revisit that strategic African business parley in Geneva where we were told by The Guardian that while responding to the moderator’s question on what he represents in the African economic model, Mo Ibrahim had sought to modify the theme of the conference – Re-inventing the Africa Business Model – on grounds that transparency should be much more important to the continental administrations than any economic model.

“Africa is not a company. It is made up of 54 countries,” he noted, describing the situation as a “big elephant in the room.” The philanthropist argued that what the continent needs are “countries with no corruption. An Africa that is more transparent with open governance.”

This perspective reminds us of the indubitable fact that leadership legacies shape public opinion in a very formidable way. In that line, Mr Julius Olu Odetunde who wrote a book entitled Teach Yourself Yoruba Proverbs and Idioms in English Language, reminds us of a particular Yoruba proverb which says: “Oba to je ti ilu toro oruko re pare, eyi ti o je ti ilu fi tu oruko re o ni pare bakan naa.” When interpreted, it means: A king that reigned when the town was peaceful, his name will not be forgotten; and the one that reigned when the town was chaotic, his name too will not be forgotten.

This proverb warns that if one assumes or holds the reins of government or any other leadership post in life, one should strive to do good: because whatever we do today, whether good or bad, will soon become history. The above mentioned facts are tangential to the essence of our reflection today on the good leadership models exemplified by two great and, indeed, iconic Nigerian Samuels who were governors; namely, Chief Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe of the old Imo State and Gen Samuel Ogbemudia of the defunct Bendel State. Both have joined the saints triumphant.

Putting the lofty goals achieved in their leadership positions vis-à-vis the total absence of good governance in the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, it is safe to assume that the duo of Ogbemudia and Mbakwe are, indeed, rare political species. The two statesmen were not even fortunate enough to control the humongous federally-redistributed allocations which the current set of governors get but, long after they left office, even the most irrational observer is singing their praise because of how so well they impacted positively in shaping and building lasting legacies and durable infrastructures that have stood the test of time and indeed are still seen as reference marks of good governance.

In the old Imo State, which comprised current Abia and parts of Ebonyi state,  Governor Mbakwe was known to have erected massive canals and dualised major roads in Aba, transformed Owerri to a model state capital, built the Owerri airport, a dual-campus university, cottage industries, as well as rural roads all-round the state. De Sam, as he was fondly called, built big structures and revolutionised agriculture. He made it easy for micros, small and medium scale investors to see Aba as centre of industrial excellence. Not any more, except the people put pressure on their current helmsman to make hay while the sun shines. 

Mbakwe was not known to have refused to pay civil servants or pensioners. But what we have in place now in Imo State under Owelle Rochas Okorocha as governor is the direct opposite. In Imo today, civil servants are owed long, backlog of salaries and pensioners are not paid. Institutions that should ensure transparency and accountability have gone to the dogs. The State House of Assembly Members are known to be lackeys and 'houseboys' of the governor. As a result, these set of lawmakers have spectacularly failed to provide oversight functions and have not exercised their constitutionally guaranteed powers to check executive recklessness.

In Edo State, which together with Delta State now represents the old Bendel, it is clear that lack of good governance has directly resulted in high crime rate. Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, a labour union activist who later became president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), rode on the back of media-hyped propaganda to win election as governor of Edo State. He spent eight years and only succeeded in building white elephant projects. Failure of good governance in Edo, by successive administrations after Ogbemudia, has made day-light robberies and assassination of prominent persons become regular occurrence. The governors are mostly not concerned about good governance. Conversely, most of the times they are seen dramatising on the pages of newspapers and broadcast media, showcasing fake projects which are at best white elephants.

Delta State is not different from Edo in terms of gross lack of good governance. The other day, newspapers reported that members of the State House of Assembly were engaged in free-for-all, even as no meaningful law-making process is ongoing in Delta State, which was part of the defunct Bendel State where the departed statesman, Ogbemudia left imprints of excellent leadership. 

Ogbemudia erected wonderful structures such as stadia, sports training facilities that gave Bendel leadership status in sporting activities, as well as a university that met international best standards. His successors allegedly diverted public institutions into private ownership through the dubious practice of monetisation.

Today, corruption in political office is stealing the shine off public service.

Talking about corruption amongst the political elite of what constituted the erstwhile Bendel and Imo states, it is lamentable that virtually all the previously elected governors from 1999 to date have had to be dragged to courts by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for theft of public funds.

The quality of leadership by the governors of the other states is not much different. Only a few weeks back, a state high court in Adamawa State sentenced the immediate-past governor, James Bala Ngilari, to five years in jail, for theft of Adamawa State money. However, Ngilari's predecessor and erstwhile Adamawa State governor, Alhaji Murtallah Nyako, a retired Navy General is, right now, facing charges at the Federal High Court, Abuja Division, by the anti-graft commission, for alleged theft of public funds. Both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Financial Crimes Commission (ICPC) are instituting cases of fraud against virtually all the past governors.

But why are current governors not striving to be like such good statesmen like the duo of Ogbemudia and Mbakwe, Nigeria's two best SAMUELS? Why are current governors working so hard to divert more public funds into their pockets, and not keen on working to deliver services and work for good governance? 

A particular governor - Kebbi State Governor - is said to be a fugitive from the United States legal system for charges of money laundering. Yet, he is wielding political power in the very party that produced President Muhammadu Buhari.  

The other day, some serving governors were accused of diverting huge foreign denominated currencies refunded to states from the Paris Club debt.

The Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) has accused members of the Nigerian Governors Forum of outright theft of these huge cash paid to them from the Federal Ministry of Finance on the directives of the President.

But wait a minute: It took the disclosure by Senator Dino Melaye of Kogi State in the Red Chambers of the National Assembly for Nigerians to even know that there is something called Paris Club refund to Nigerian states. These governors who pocketed the huge cash are still not meeting their statutory obligation of even paying salaries. An unpardonable outrageous amount of N388.8 billion of the London-Paris Club refund was diverted by seven governors, according to the EFCC. 

In one account, the EFCC found N19 billion. The question begging for an answer is: Why has President Buhari who recently returned to Nigeria after 50 days of medical tourism in London approved another N500 billion Paris/ London Club refund be released to governors?

Anyway, our concern in this piece is how to restore the legacies of good governance, which the duo of Ogbemudia and Mbakwe bequeathed to us so our generations yet unborn will not cling on to the bad examples of the current governors.

Born as Samuel (Sam) Onunaka Mbakwe (1929 – 5 January 2004), he was elected governor of old Imo State, South-east Nigeria, from October 1, 1979 until 31 December 31, 1983. Known more for his many enduring projects for Imo people,  it will be recalled that in 1981, Sam Mbakwe set up Imo State University. 

The campus as observed was located in a territory that was ceded to Abia State in 1991 and was re-christened Abia State University. However, Imo State University acquired a new campus in Owerri and still exists. A legal practitioner of note, Mbakwe was well-educated and well-behaved. 

 Historians also records that Dr Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia (born September 17, 1932) was a former Nigerian Army officer and, later, a politician. He was Military governor of the Mid-West State (1967-1975); which changed to Bendel State. It was later split into Edo and Delta states. 

 Ogbemudia was born in Benin City. As a youth he was said to have lived with his elder cousin, Mr FS Uwaifo, a Benin-based businessman. He too got vast education.  

As can be seen, one of the Samuels was military while the other was civilian, but both distinguished themselves in governance, showing that good people abound in all professions.  

But how did we go wrong? As renowned author, Prof Chinua Achebe, asked:  “When did the rain begin to beat us”? Nigeria needs governors with the attributes and qualities of these two Samuels. Nigeria needs good governance. We must build vibrant institutions that would be independent enough to exercise their constitutional oversight functions of providing checks and balances on the executives. It's time to end the perennial executive rascality and recklessness of these governors who see themselves as demigods. 

Onwubiko, Head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), blogs @www.huriwa.blogspot.com

Source: News Express

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